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Sector trends

A silver lining for retirement villages?

Over-65s are predicted to make up almost a quarter of the UK population within 15 years. With many willing to downsize from expensive homes, the popularity of retirement villages could soon soar.

  • There is demand for high-quality, well-located facilities that are integrated into the local community
  • Many villages offer support from staff for day-to-day living, when required, as well as easy access to GPs
  • A long-term goal to provide more affordable developments would be to involve the government in future partnerships
Living to the max

Baby boomers grew up in largely prosperous, peaceful times and leisure is very important to them. So retirement villages are having to offer everything from restaurants to hair salons, gardening clubs, cookery master classes and even golf simulators to encourage them to buy or rent properties.

Legal & General’s Great Alne Park Inspired Villages retirement community, which has some 160 properties, even had its own music festival last July, featuring jazz performers and an orchestra.

Baby boomers were the first generation to get divorced or live alone in big numbers, and with around a third of over-65s in single households, retirement villages with lots of activities provide opportunities to meet like-minded people and avoid loneliness, too.

In the US and Australia, around 6% of over-65s live in retirement communities – compared with just 0.6% here – due in large part to the great facilities. UK companies are planning £40bn of investment by 2030, which could increase capacity from 75,000 residents to 250,000, according to Michael Voges, executive director of Associated Retirement Community Operators, and create turnover of £70bn.

Community minded

Where many British baby boomers differ from their US counterparts is that they want to feel part of wider society, rather than hidden away in remote or gated developments.

Several private firms are building developments in or close to town centres, but perhaps the best recent example of a retirement village integrating into the local area is St Monica Trust’s Chocolate Quarter, near Bristol. The not-for-profit organisation’s 132-apartment site has a vet, gym, restaurants and hairdresser that are open to locals. It also has rented office space, providing additional income to the trust.

“Traditional models of care have led to society hiding older people away,” says trust chief executive, David Williams. “[This project is] about breaking down the walls that stop older people being valued.”

Today’s retirees also want to feel accessible to friends and family. The feature they think most important in any retirement village, according to specialist research agency boomer & beyond, is easy access and parking for visitors.

A touch of class

If people are leaving well-appointed, substantial homes, they want a residential village property that’s excellent quality, with stylish furnishings, good-spec kitchens and beautiful gardens.

“We aim to provide a relaxed, country-house feel, with staff in uniform and hospitality trained,” says Peter Martin of Enterprise Retirement Living, which has a site in Chester built around a 17th-century hall.

Not all baby boomers expect quite this level of service but, according to James Cobb, sales and marketing director of Inspired Villages, they do want their property to be secure and looked after when they’re away – with staff even watering their plants. “They can travel the world more than any generation before, so they want somewhere they can lock up and leave,” he says.

Healthier for longer

Far from sinking into old-age fragility, baby boomers are frequently very fit and want to stay that way.

Many operators now have swimming pools, spas and gyms on-site. “Our new Wellbeing Navigators help residents achieve health goals,” adds Cobb.

They can travel the world more than any generation before, so they want somewhere they can lock up and leave

James Cobb, sales and marketing director, Inspired Villages

“A lot of baby boomers don’t want to be a burden on their scattered families,” adds Martin. “They want to avoid their children having to come down from Newcastle to Nottingham, say, if they’ve just had a minor fall. If retirement villages have people on hand to cope with such problems, [their children] don’t have to.”

Karen Croucher of the Centre for Housing Policy, University of York, says that warm, well-designed retirement properties can prevent problems such as falls or respiratory issues. “Staff support may mean that people can care for their [unwell] loved ones longer, too.”

“Social activities can boost mental health,” adds Benjamin Davis, CEO of Octopus Healthcare, which has eight retirement villages.

Bramshott Place in Hampshire offers easy access between town and country. © Inspired Villages

The ExtraCare Charitable Trust, which operates 14 villages, has advisers that help residents manage their health and offer regular checks for conditions such as high blood pressure. This reduces planned or routine visits to the GP by 46%. Alternatively, some retirement villages have GPs on site.

“A future need for greater care is always in the back of [baby boomers'] minds,” says boomer & beyond’s MD, Jonty Roots. “They want to live somewhere where the option is available.”

Bupa-owned Richmond Villages, for instance, allows residents to move between independent living apartments, suites where they get help with things such as cooking, and on-site care homes.

In most cases, though, retirement villages may not be the best places for those with serious conditions, such as dementia, or, says Croucher, requiring end-of-life care.

Payment options

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to paying for retirement living, and it can be beneficial for firms to offer a range of options.

Many baby boomers see buying an apartment – which tends to cost from around £250,000 – as a sensible investment. Others, perhaps wanting to free up funds for travelling, may opt to rent, with costs ranging from £70 to £400 plus a week. Shared ownership can also be a good option.

Today’s retirees often prefer to pay event fees – levies of 10% or more on the sale price when their retirement property is sold – in return for lower service charges (which can reach £10,000 a year). “They can be quite concerned about erratic changes in service-fee levels,” says Philip Schmid, a director at JLL, which offers financial advice to property investors.

Lower income needs

Retirement villages aren’t cheap to run and private development prices normally rule out less well-off pensioners.

But not all baby boomers are wealthy and experts suggest companies and government authorities could form more partnerships to provide affordable or social-care-friendly developments, currently usually the preserve of councils, not-for-profit trusts and charities.

“Poor housing creates hazards that cost the NHS some £2.5bn a year. It should work with organisations to create more villages,” says Shirley Hall of The ExtraCare Charitable Trust.

Private developers are working with Birmingham City Council to build care villages, at the moment, paid for by a mixture of leasehold sales and social rent.

Whether the pensioners of tomorrow opt for full-service with all the mod cons or more modest affordable care, moving into a retirement village is likely to be an increasingly attractive option for their third age.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of the NatWest Group Economics Department, as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

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